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Adventure on two wheels: The rewards of mountain biking in Napa Valley: best parks, trails, and tips

Adventure on two wheels: The rewards of mountain biking in Napa Valley: best parks, trails, and tips

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Napa County offers a wealth of parks and trails for new to experienced mountain bike riders, including Skyline Wilderness Park, Oat Hill Mine Trail, Moore Creek Park, and Pacific Union College’s Los Posadas forest. The North End Trail at Lake Berryessa Wildlife Area is also a good option, with its rewarding feature of 12 stone arch bridges.

“The variety of trails in Napa County is really fantastic. You have everything, technical riding, climbing, downhill riding, simple flow, and even jumps,” said Debbie Bloomquist, executive director of Redwood Empire Mountain Bike Alliance (REMBA).

“Technical riding” refers to parts of a trail that offer challenges, like a rocky creek bed.

The higher sections of certain trails in Skyline and Oat Hill Mine Road provide expansive views of Napa Valley.

“At the meeting of the Silverado Trail and Highway 29 is the trailhead of Oat Hill Mine Trail. There you’ll find an old wagon road where you can see the wagon trail cut into the rock. You have 4 ½ miles of climb that take you to Holms Place (where) you can see what’s left of an old homestead and apple orchard. The trail continues for another 4 miles, with caves at the end,” said David Pruett, head bicycle mechanic at Bicycle Works. Pruett is also the caretaker of Moore Creek Park, tasked with maintaining the park’s mountain bike trails.

Some remote sections of Napa Valley parks, including Oat Hill Mine Trail, may be closed in early August due to fire danger and hunting season.

The most accessible park is Skyline Wilderness Park, located in the city of Napa. Yet this park also contains extremely challenging trails, with “advanced, steep climbs,” said Pruett.

“Los Posadas has narrower, slower, winding trails. It’s the best for beginners and intermediate riders. Moore Creek Park has flowy, not steep, and not too rocky trails for beginning and advanced riders. Oat Hill Mine Road and Skyline are advanced, although there are some trails for beginners at Skyline,” said Pruett.

Andrew Brooks, president of the board of directors of Skyline, said new and intermediate riders should be aware of their limits.

“I often ride at Skyline a few times a week. I’m careful not to ‘ride over my head.’ Manzanita Trail and Bayleaf Trail can be very rocky and challenging. I always wear a helmet, carry an emergency kit, and take a basic bike toolkit with me,” said Brooks.

Jake Scheideman, owner of St. Helena Cyclery, said mountain biking is safer and more fun with a group of friends.

“You should stay hydrated and bring a good bike. The better the bike, the more it will help you to enjoy your ride. That way, as you improve your bike-handling skills, there will be fewer places where you’ll have to get off your bike. You’ll be able to ride through the tough spots,” said Scheideman.

Two new trails are coming to Napa Valley this summer.

Chris Cahill, lead planner at Napa Open Space District, said Conn Peak Trail, a 1.5-mile trail that starts from Old Man’s Beard, and Whiskey Ridge Trail, both at Moore Creek Park, is supposed to open this summer.

“These trails connect to each other at Lake Hennessey, running from the Shoreline Trail to the Alta Hennessy Trail. By winter, a new, one-mile mountain bike-optimized trail, the Catahoula Trail, will be under construction at Moore Creek Park. By spring 2020, over three miles of new single-track trail will open at Moore Creek Park’s Lake Hennessy unit,” said Cahill.

Cahill said Napa Open Space District is also planning mountain bike trails for Suscol Headwaters Preserve directly adjacent to Skyline.

“The trails will be on the ridge above Skyline, with a new trailhead planned at Jameson Canyon. We are currently negotiating with different neighbors over access. We hope to open this area in 2020,” said Cahill.

Napa County Supervisor Ryan Gregory said he is raising money to build a pump track at Skyline.

“It will be a very short, compact skills course comprised of banked turns and rollers (rollers being a series of humps in a trail). We’d like to put it near around the disc golf parking lot, to the left of the main gate. The issue is that the state owns the land at Skyline. This project would have to go through a lot of hoops to get done,” said Gregory.

If Napa County is able to end its lease of Skyline with the state and purchase the park, the county would be better positioned to make park improvements such as the pump track.

Gregory is looking forward to the overall growth and improvement of the Valley’s trail system.

“The Bay Area Ridge Trail is planned to connect all of the ridgelines in Napa with continuous trail. A current project is to connect Moore Creek Park to the PUC/Angwin area. There is so much potential for new trails in Napa,” said Gregory.

Cahill said the effort to create this long system requires getting easements from property owners for the connections.

“We are in active negotiations with PUC about formalizing public access through the PUC property,” said Cahill.

Riders can help keep current trails open and in good condition by riding them responsibly.

“You shouldn’t ride when it’s very wet. It doesn’t take much to trash a trail when it gets saturated,” said Cahill.

Deep ruts can erode a trail, making it harder to turn and brake in grooves or soft dirt.

Brooks said riders can learn what makes a trail safe and how to fix a worn trail by joining a volunteer trail repair group.

“We go out together to insert drains and lens-shaped depressions that allow water to run off the trails. We also restore the land if there are tread cuts across the hillside,” said Brooks.

Cahill said groups of eight- to 15-member volunteer crews spend half a day on the weekends restoring 20-yard sections of Open Space District trails.

“We generally don’t hire contractors to make these repairs. Dedicated riders make the changes. They help save the district money and learn how much work goes into keeping trails rideable,” said Cahill.

Pruett said he has learned a great deal from rebuilding trails, and sees it as a fun way to connect with other mountain bikers.

“(Repairing helps you) develop a better understanding of the trail. You see that there’s a vision behind the way a trail is built,” said Pruett.

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